A pandemic is an epidemic of a communicable disease that has spread across a large region within a short period of time. There have been several instances in the past when human population has endured a pandemic. Here we list the deadliest pandemics of all time.

10. Epidemic Typhus

1918-1922, Russia

2-3 Million

Typhus was endemic in Poland and several neighboring countries in 1914. During World War I and shortly afterwards during the Russian Civil War, the typhus epidemic caused 2–3 million deaths out of 20–30 million infected between 1918 and 1922. The spread of the epidemic on the Western Front was prevented because of the presence of delousing stations, but it ravaged the Eastern Front. It also caused hundreds of thousands of deaths during World War II. Anne Frank and her sister Margot both died of typhus in the camps in 1945. After the development of a vaccine during World War II, Western Europe and North America have been able to prevent this epidemic.

9. 1520 Mexico Smallpox Epidemic

1519–1520, Mexico

5–8 Million

It was brought to Mexico by Spanish ships in 1519. It killed almost one-fourth of the regional population. It led to the downfall of the Aztec Empire and the Tenochtitlan was captured by the Spanish forces in 1521. The mortality of the disease was reduced after the vaccination expedition carried out by Francisco Javier de Balmis in 1803. It was officially eradicated 500 years later in 1951.

8. Antonine Plague

165–190, Roman Empire

5–10 Million

This pandemic was brought to the Roman Empire by troops who were returning from campaigns in the Near East. This plague claimed the life of Roman emperor, Lucius Verus, who rose to the throne because he got adopted by the previous emperor, Antoninus Pius, due to which his family name Antoninus, got associated with the pandemic. The disease killed one-fourth of those who were affected. At its peak it killed 2,000 people a day and must have resulted in the death of one-third of the population.

7. Cocoliztli Epidemic

1545–1548, Mexico

5–15 Million

It was a indigenous viral hemorrhagic fever which ravaged the Mexican highlands. The illness was characterized by high fevers and bleeding. It is often referred to as the worst epidemic in the history of Mexico. It killed around 800,000 native Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico, which led to the widespread abandonment of many indigenous sites in the area during that period.

6. Third Plague Pandemic (Bubonic Plague)

1855–1960, Worldwide

12–15 Million

It is called that because it was the third major bubonic plague outbreak to affect European society. It began in Yunnan, China, in 1855 and spread to other continents. It led to 10 million deaths in India alone. It was considered to be active until 1960. The pandemic came from two different sources, one through ocean-going trade and the other was pneumonic in character, which was contagious.

5. COVID-19 Pandemic

2019- Present, Worldwide

7-28 Million

COVID is a respiratory illness which spreads by air when people are near each other and was first identified in China. It spread as quickly as it did because we live in a  globalized world. It also caused the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s. It led to significant part of the world population to be quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease. Theatres, ship cruises and hotels are some of the businesses which have been hurt the most because of this pandemic. It also saw a drop in the price of oil triggered by the 2020 Russia–Saudi Arabia oil price war.

4. AIDS Pandemic

1981– Present, Worldwide

35 Million

This originated in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, around 1920. The virus was first recognized in 1981. It peaked in 1997 at 3.3 million deaths that year. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region most affected by it. Freddie Mercury, Rock Hudson, Arthur Ashe are some of the celebrities who died due to AIDS. Ronald Reagan who was the President of United States when the pandemic hit, did not acknowledge its existence because the majority of people who were dying due to it were gay.

3. First Plague Pandemic (Plague Of Justinian)

541–549, Europe And West Asia

15–100 Million

It is the first Old World pandemic of plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It first originated in Tian Shan, a system of mountain ranges on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China. It arrived in Roman Egypt in 541, spread around the Mediterranean Sea until 544, and persisted in Northern Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, until 549. It afflicted the entire Mediterranean Basin, Europe, and the Near East, severely affecting the Sasanian Empire and the Byzantine Empire. The plague is named after Justinian I, who was then the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, who contracted the disease and recovered in 542. The death toll was an estimated 15–100 million people, which was equivalent to 25–60% of Europe’s population at the time.

2. Spanish Flu

1918–1920, Worldwide

17–100 Million

This was a influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. It was first observed in Kansas, United States in March 1918. To avoid panic, it was under reported
by the newspapers but newspapers in Spain reported it freely when King Alfonso XIII got ill because of it. This caused a false impression that Spain was hit hard by it, which gave rise to the name ‘Spanish’ flu. The overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, poor hygiene, all exacerbated by the recent war contributed to the high mortality rate which was estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 100 million.

1. Black Death (Second Plague Pandemic)

1346–1353, Europe, Asia, And North Africa

75–200 Million

This was a bubonic plague which like Plague of Justinian was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of 75–200 million. The pandemic first appeared in Crimea in 1347 which then was most likely carried by fleas living on the black rats that travelled on Genoese  merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean Basin and reaching the rest of Europe. Once it came onshore, it was spread by human fleas. It is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population.

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